Hair loss is a common problem for canines.
Sometimes, hair loss is restricted to a relatively small area, but it can also occur all over your pet’s body. Likewise, hair loss can be the result of a relatively minor ailment, or it can be indicative of very serious health problems.
But no matter how much hair your dog is losing or what is causing the problem, you’ll want to address the issue promptly. Doing so will not only help eliminate unsightly bald patches, it’ll help ensure your dog remains healthy and happy too.
We’ll discuss some of the most common causes of hair loss in dogs below. We’ll also try to help you figure out when you can treat it at home and when you need to go to the vet. We’ll conclude by explaining some of the most effective home remedies you may want to try.
But first, we’ll need to explain some of the basic facts about your dog’s coat and skin.
Key Takeaways: Why Is My Dog Losing Hair?
- Your dog’s body hair plays a number of important roles in his health. This includes keeping him warm, protecting him from the sun, among other things.
- Your dog may lose hair in a few different ways. For example, some dogs lose hair in only a few discrete locations; others lose hair in a more generalized fashion.
- A number of things can cause your dog to lose hair. Some of the most common causes include parasites, friction caused by tight-fitting garments, and hormonal issues.
The Basics of Your Dog’s Coat
Aside from a handful of hairless dog breeds, most dogs are covered in body hair (and, for the record, most “hairless” dogs still have some body hair). This is a trait most mammals share, and body hair serves a number of important biological roles.
Among other things, body hair helps insulate a dog’s body and provide some protection from the elements. This not only includes things like rain and snow, but also the sun – many hairless breeds are actually quite susceptible to sunburn.
Body hair also provides some degree of protection during altercations with predators, prey, and competitors for territory or resources.
A dog’s hair grows out of follicles, just like human hair does. Also like humans, dogs produce a few different types of hair. For example, whiskers are a very different type of hair than the kind found on your dog’s back or shoulders.
Additionally, some dogs bear two types of coats – an undercoat and an outer coat. The undercoat is comprised of soft, downy hair which primarily serves as insulation, while the outer coat is made up of rougher, coarser hair which helps protect your dog’s body from water, thorns, claws, and other things.
It bears mentioning that some people use the term “fur” to refer to dogs who have a double coat, and the term “hair” to refer to dogs who have a single coat. However, this isn’t correct – fur and hair are, from a biological perspective, identical.
But hair doesn’t last forever, and it eventually starts to breakdown. So, your dog’s body jettisons the old hair and replaces it with new hair periodically. A small amount of hair tends to shed more-or-less constantly, and most breeds also shed heavily once or twice a year.
Alopecia – the medical term for hair loss – occurs when a dog’s body sheds hair more quickly than it can be replaced. This can occur for a variety of reasons, which we’ll discuss further below.
But before we start talking about the reasons that dogs suffer from alopecia, we must discuss some of the patterns of hair loss that occur most frequently.
Different Types of Hair Loss in Dogs
Hair loss can occur in a variety of different ways, and the pattern in which your dog loses hair can have important implications for identifying the cause and determining the best treatment.
For example, hair loss sometimes occurs in a generalized fashion. In such cases, your dog’s entire coat may start to thin or fall out completely. In other cases, hair loss manifests in discrete locations, such as the haunches, ears, or face.
Additionally, hair loss can occur in dogs who appear otherwise healthy, as well as those who are suffering from other symptoms. For example, your dog may start acting lethargic at the same time he starts losing hair, or he may have sores or other skin problems associated with areas of hair loss.
The pattern of hair loss and the presence or absence of other symptoms are critical factors that must be considered when trying to determine the cause of the problem and devise a treatment strategy.
What Causes Excessive Hair Loss in Dogs?
To treat hair loss, you must first identify the reason your dog is suffering from the problem. Dogs can lose hair for a wide variety of reasons, so we’ll touch on a few of the most common causes below.
A variety of common ectoparasites (those that attack the outside of your dog’s body) can cause dogs to lose hair. Fleas, demodectic mites, and sarcoptic mites are the most common parasites that cause canines to lose hair.
Several bacterial strains, including many types of Staphylococcus bacteria, can cause dogs to experience skin and coat problems. In addition to hair loss, these types of infections can cause redness, swelling, and itchiness.
A variety of fungi can cause dogs to suffer from hair loss. Ringworm is one of the most common fungi to cause hair loss, although yeast organisms can also cause a dog’s hair to fall out. In many cases, fungal infections cause hair to fall out in discrete locations, rather than in generalized fashion.
Allergies in dogs – including those caused by environmental triggers as well as those associated with food allergies – often lead to skin and coat problems. In some cases, the allergy itself may cause the hair to fall out, but in other cases, the hair loss is the result of a dog’s scratching or chewing behaviors that the itchiness elicits.
Autoimmune diseases occur when a dog’s immune system begins attacking his own body. There are a variety of different autoimmune diseases that affect dogs, and several of them – including, most notably, pemphigus foliaceus – can cause dogs to lose hair.
Cushing’s disease occurs when a dog’s adrenal glands produce too much cortisol. This causes a variety of different symptoms, including increased thirst, increased appetite, and the development of excessive body fat. Hair loss is also one of the symptoms commonly associated with the disease.
Hypothyroidism occurs when a dog’s thyroid gland fails to produce a sufficient level of thyroid hormones. Some of the most common signs of this condition include poor coat health and hair loss.
A handful of breeds are susceptible to genetic conditions that cause hair loss. A few of the most commonly afflicted breeds include:
Additionally, some dogs are simply born with a predisposition for hair loss.
Friction or Pressure
One of the simplest and most common reasons dogs experience localized hair loss is friction. For example, dogs forced to wear improperly fitting or excessively tight collars may lose hair around their neck. In other cases, pressure may cause your dog’s hair to fall out in isolated areas. For example, older dogs often develop bald patches on their elbows over time.
Stress or Anxiety
In addition to pathogens and hereditary ailments, hair loss is often associated with severe stress or anxiety in dogs. In some cases, the hair loss occurs as a direct result of the stress or anxiety, but it can also occur because a dog begins to chew on his skin in response to the stress he’s experiencing.
Just like people, dogs often experience thinning hair as they age, so it’s not unusual for dogs to lose hair as they get older.
This can lead to bald spots at times, but it is important to ensure that your dog’s hair loss is not caused by an underlying condition before chalking it up to a normal part of the aging process.
In some cases, thinning hair or losing hair in patches may be related to your pup’s diet. Diet-related hair issues is often linked to poor skin condition, which may be caused by dehydration or an improper diet. Fortunately, these types of problems are usually easy to address by switching foods or adding a fish oil supplement to your dog’s food.
Localized Hair Loss: What Does It Mean if My Dog Is Losing Hair Here or There?
Some types of hair loss characteristically occur in specific locations, perhaps providing clues to the cause of the problem. A few of the most common sites of hair loss are discussed below.
Dog Losing Hair On Ears
Hair loss around the ears is often – but not always – associated with external parasites. Mites are one of the most common causes of hair loss around the ears, but fleas and other parasites can also cause your dog’s ears to start losing hair. Yeast infections and ringworm can also trigger hair loss around the ears.
Dog Losing Hair on Face
A variety of medical issues can cause dogs to experience hair loss on or around the face. Ringworm, for example, often occurs near a dog’s face, as can bacterial infections (particularly if the infection results from an injury).
Dog Losing Hair On Tail
Many dogs suffer from hair loss on the tail – particularly near the base of the tail. This can be caused by a number of different medical problems. Fleas are one of the most common causes of hair loss in this region. However, allergies and intestinal worms can also cause dogs to lick and bite this area, which may result in hair loss.
Dog Losing Hair on Belly
Hair loss on the belly can occur for a number of different reasons. Friction is often to blame in dogs who wear harnesses or other garments, but hair loss on the belly could also indicate that your dog is suffering from fleas or mites.
Dog Losing Hair on Paws
Hair loss around the paws is often the result of fungal infections, but it can also be caused by environmental allergies. It can even be the result of psychological problems, as frustrated or anxious dogs often chew on their paws.
Can You Treat Canine Hair Loss at Home?
When canine hair loss is caused by minor conditions, such as fleas or friction, you can often treat the problem yourself. However, you’ll need your vet’s help to deal with issues like autoimmune diseases or bacterial infections.
The trick is to figure out why your dog is losing hair in the first place. Consider the following questions when trying to decide:
|Is your dog’s hair loss limited to a single location?||Hair loss that occurs in localized areas is often (but not always) caused by things you may be able to address at home. By contrast, most of the causes of generalized hair loss will require your vet’s help to treat.|
|Is there an obvious cause for your dog’s hair loss?||For example, if your dog is currently suffering from a flea outbreak, or he’s been under a lot of stress lately, you may have a better chance of treating the problem at home than you would hair loss that isn’t caused by something obvious.|
|Is your dog exhibiting any other physical symptoms?||The presence of other symptoms, like weight loss or hyperactivity, suggests that the problem is either relatively serious or caused by some type of systemic illness. In these cases, it is wise to seek veterinary assistance to ensure your pet gets the treatment he needs.|
|Has the hair loss started suddenly or is it a chronic problem that’s afflicted your pet for a while?||If your pet’s hair loss is limited to a single location and it has started somewhat suddenly, it is more likely to be caused by something you can treat, rather than a long-term, serious illness.|
|Are there any signs of infection present?||If the skin near the area of hair loss is severely inflamed, red, or bleeding, you’ll likely want to obtain your vet’s help to treat the potential infection. Failure to do so may lead to very serious health problems. Hair loss that’s associated with a foul odor may also be a sign of infection that’ll require veterinary attention.|
|Does the hair loss appear to be contagious?||If any of your other pets begin showing signs of hair loss, or any of the human members of your family begin suffering from a skin ailment, you’ll want to see your vet immediately.|
|Is the hair loss associated with any behavioral changes?||If your dog begins exhibiting changes in appetite, energy level, or general disposition, you’ll want to seek veterinary help. These types of symptoms often signify the presence of an underlying illness, which you’ll need your vet’s help to treat.|
If, after considering the questions above, you feel that your dog’s hair loss is being caused by something relatively minor, you can attempt to treat the problem yourself. Just be sure that you seek immediate veterinary attention if your treatment strategy doesn’t work in a timely manner or your dog’s condition begins to worsen.
Home Remedies for Hair Loss: How Do I Stop My Dog’s Hair from Falling Out?
Let’s be clear: There is no magical formula or concoction you can apply to your dog’s skin that will help grow his hair back.
There are a few things you can do to help address hair loss, but these techniques generally only work for specific problems. So, you’ll have to determine the reason your dog is losing hair to have any chance of solving the problem.
Hair Loss Caused by Fleas
If you believe that fleas are the cause of your dog’s hair loss, you’ll want to begin by giving your dog a bath (preferably with a dog shampoo specialized for flea and tick treatment). This will not only clean his skin, but it will also help physically remove a significant portion of the fleas on his body.
After his bath, you’ll want to treat him with a good preventative flea medication (note that some flea treatments require you to wait a few days following a bath before applying the treatment). Within a few days of treatment, you should see your dog stop scratching as most of the fleas die off and the bites begin to heal.
You’ll need to be patient, as the hair may take several weeks to come back in completely, but you should notice short hairs emerging from the skin once the fleas are gone and your dog’s skin returns to normal.
Hair Loss Caused by Mites
Mites are another common cause of hair loss that you may be able to treat at home. However, because they’re often contagious to other pets (and even humans in some cases), you’ll want to seek veterinary care if you aren’t able to resolve the condition in a short time.
Some preventative flea medications will kill mites, but some mites will only respond to special shampoos or dips. We’ve written about these products before, so check out our article about mange treatments for dogs if you think mites are the cause of the problem (mite infestations are often called “mange”).
Note that you’ll often need to clean your home from top to bottom and wash your pet’s bedding to completely eradicate a mite infestation.
Hair Loss Caused by Friction
If your dog’s hair loss appears to be associated with a harness, collar, or similar garment, you’ll want to begin by removing the item that’s causing the problem. Then, give your dog a nice, warm bath with an appropriate pet shampoo to clean and nourish his skin.
After the bath, you’ll want to dry your dog gently and let his skin and hair follicles rest by leaving the offending item off. Try to leave off the collar or harness that’s causing the problem for as long as possible, but once you need to put it back on, make sure that you adjust it so that it doesn’t cause the same kind of irritation it was causing before.
For example, if your dog’s hair loss was the result of a collar that was too tight, you’ll want to loosen it a bit before putting it back on (typically, you’ll want to be able to fit two fingers underneath the collar to ensure it isn’t too tight).
Note that loose collars and harnesses can also cause hair loss, as they may repeatedly slide back and forth on your dog’s skin. In such cases, you’ll want to tighten the collar or harness, rather than loosen it.
Hair Loss Caused by Psychological Factors
If you believe that psychological factors are to blame for your dog’s hair loss, you’ll want to take steps to reduce his fear, frustration, or anxiety.
Start by taking care of the basics. Make sure your dog has a secure crate that gives him a safe retreat he can enter when he’s feeling fearful. You’ll also want to be sure that he’s getting plenty of exercise – physical activity is the closest thing there is to a silver bullet when it comes to addressing emotional issues for many dogs.
If these strategies don’t solve the problem, you’ll want to try to figure out what is causing his emotional pain.
Are you giving him enough attention? Does he have enough toys to keep him occupied and stave off boredom? Is another pet bullying him? Are you leaving him alone for excessive lengths of time?
Whatever the cause of his anxiety, you’ll need to take steps to eliminate the issue so that he can start feeling better. In the interim, you may need to fit him with an E-collar if he’s chewing on his skin.
Hair Loss Caused by Allergies
Food allergies frequently cause dogs to suffer from itchy skin, and in severe cases, it can even cause hair loss.
Ultimately, you’ll need your vet’s help to positively identify your dog’s allergic trigger through the use of an elimination-challenge diet. However, you may be able to give your dog some relief (and help him regrow his fur) by switching to a “hypoallergenic” food.
Most hypoallergenic foods are made without common allergic triggers (things like chicken, beef, and eggs), so they are often helpful for dogs with food allergies.
What to Expect at the Vet
If your dog’s hair loss fails to respond to home treatments or it is associated with other symptoms, you’ll need to head on over to the vet.
Your vet will likely begin by taking a detailed history. This will include questions about when you first noticed the problem and whether or not any other symptoms have become apparent. He or she may also ask about your use of flea medications, your dog’s diet, and any significant changes to your dog’s daily life (for example, have you recently moved?).
Your vet will then conduct a physical examination. This will obviously include an inspection of the afflicted area, but your vet will likely take your dog’s vitals and obtain an accurate body weight for your pooch. In some cases, this may be all the investigation necessary for your vet to determine the cause, but in other cases, additional sleuthing may be necessary.
For example, your vet may look at your dog’s bald spots with a specialized light if he or she believes the problem is being caused by ringworm. Alternatively, your vet may take a skin scraping, which can then be sent to a lab to determine if mites are causing the problem or if a bacterial infection is present.
Your vet may also need to draw blood or collect a urine sample if a systemic illness, such as Cushing’s disease or hypothyroidism, is causing your dog’s hair loss.
The recommended treatment will depend on the cause.
Things like fleas, mites, and fungal or bacterial infections will usually require you to administer a topical medication to deal with the problem, and you may also have to do things like clean your home or wash your pet’s bedding.
On the other hand, things like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease will often require a lengthy (perhaps perpetual) course of medicines to treat that problem. These types of issues aren’t always possible to cure, but they can usually be held in check with medications.
As you can see, there are a wide variety of things that can cause your dog to lose hair. While there are a few home remedies that are occasionally helpful for addressing hair loss, you’ll need to seek veterinary assistance if you suspect the hair loss is caused by a systemic illness.
Additionally, if the home remedy you try does not produce results in a short period of time, you’ll want to contact your vet and see what he or she can do to help.
Has your dog ever suffered from hair loss? We’d love to hear about your experiences!
Let us know what the cause of the hair loss ended up being and how you treated it. Your experiences may help other readers solve their dog’s hair loss problem.